Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, has long been allowed to flout Russian law. And the Kremlin this week reaffirmed his untouchable status as security officers loyal to the former warlord continued their high-profile pursuit of the family of an opposition blogger. The blogger’s mother — a woman of retirement age and seriously ill — was last month detained in her apartment in the city of Nizhny Novgorod and taken to Chechnya. Amid a wave of outrage, Kadyrov arranged a meeting with President Vladimir Putin and flooded his social networks with photographs from the Kremlin.
- Kadyrov last month declared war on the family of 63-year-old Saidi Yangulbayev, a former Chechen high court judge. Chechen police officers came to Yangulbayev’s apartment in Nizhny Novgorod — some 1,100 miles from Chechnya — and tried to detain the retired legal official and his diabetic wife, Zarema Musayeva, on fraud charges. They did not manage to seize Yangulbayev because the law states that ex-federal judges enjoy immunity from prosecution. But Musayeva was arrested and driven to Chechnya without even being allowed to put on her shoes.
- The day of this de facto kidnapping, Kadyrov said that “there’s a place waiting for Yangulbayev’s family, either in jail or under the ground” and added he would do everything to find all members of the Yangulbayev family. Adam Delimkhanov, a member of the Russian parliament from Chechnya and a close associate of Kadyrov, said (in Chechen) that he had declared a “blood feud” with Yangulbayev.
- Kadyrov’s real target is the son of the former judge, who hosts 1ADAT, an opposition channel on messaging service Telegram reporting on kidnappings and torture in Chechnya. “All the Yangulbayevs soiled their hands with the vile allegations,” Kadyrov wrote online. “From now on, this family will have to live while looking over their shoulders and fearing any knock on the door. Our people are so offended by the vile and hysterical words of the Yangulbayevs that the very first Chechen will deal with them as soon as the opportunity arises.”
- Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has faced repeated questions from journalists in recent days about the fate of Musayeva, and the threats made by Kadyrov and his entourage. He has offered few reassurances.
- The Chechen capital of Grozny saw thousands of people assemble Wednesday at a rally in which portraits of the Yangulbayev family were burned. Despite coronavirus restrictions, police officers did not attempt to stop the demonstrators from gathering.
- Putin met with Kadyrov in Moscow later the same day even though Peskov had denied there were any plans for such an encounter. Kadyrov said it was a “good” meeting and that Putin supported the Chechen authorities. “There were some hot topics that needed the president’s personal involvement,” he said. Later, Kadyrov met with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. Throughout his day in Moscow, Kadyrov posted photos and videos from the Kremlin to his press minister’s page on social media site Instagram (Kadyrov himself has long been banned from Instagram).
- “Kadyrov believes himself to be the absolute master of all Chechens, wherever they might be – in Norway, Nizhny Novgorod, the U.S. or Georgia,” explained human rights activist Igor Kalyanin. “All Chechens are his property, to do with as he will. If he wants, he will tear off a leg; if he wants he can break an arm; if he wants, he can throw them in jail,” he said.
- Officially, there is no confirmation that Putin discussed the Yangulbayev family during his meeting with Kadyrov. And spokesman Peskov “completely disagreed” with one journalist who suggested that the situation in Chechnya was “out of control”.
Why the world should care: Kadyrov’s status is the result of a political bargain: as long as he maintains control over Chechnya and keeps a lid on separatism, Moscow gives him free rein. But his influence has increasingly been felt far beyond Chechnya’s borders — he is suspected of murdering journalists and political opponents, and was linked to the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in 2015. In addition, many Chechen security officers have a side hustle in which they offer their services as ‘muscle’ to businessmen. The existence of such a paramilitary force makes some fear Kadyrov could play the role of kingmaker in the event of a major political crisis.